A pristine crystal blue lake surrounded by scented alpine forests and snow-capped mountains. Sandy beaches and roaring waterfalls with water cascading over ancient rock formations. Warm, dry summers and cold, chilly winters. That’s the breathtaking beauty of Lake Tahoe. If you are thinking of visiting Lake Tahoe, this guide is for you.
Located between Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the USA. The large expanse of this lake covers an area that is 35km (22 miles) long and 19km (12 miles) wide that is divided into North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe. With a depth of 1,645 feet, this concave lake is formed on the Tahoe Basin and is almost 2 million years old.
The clear cobalt blue water of Lake Tahoe reaches it through 63 tributaries. Rain and snow that directly fall onto the lake also make up Tahoe’s 37 trillion gallons of fresh water. It is the only lake in the USA that is surrounded by alpine forests and snowy mountain peaks. With an average altitude of 7,800 feet above sea level, Lake Tahoe is home to some of the world’s best ski resorts and winter sports venues.
The diverse topography of Lake Tahoe and its wide natural landscape offers plenty of recreational activities and opportunities for exploration. Lake Tahoe has something to offer for everyone. Whether you are planning to visit the lake with your partner, family, or friends, this serene Adventureland is sure to excite all.
Before you continue reading our ultimate guide for visiting Lake Tahoe, let’s look at the key differences between South Lake Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe.
North Lake Tahoe
- Quieter. Calmer. Slow-paced
- Less crowd
- Mountain lifestyle
- Great beaches for summers
- Great ski resorts for winters
- At night, silence descends
- More local owned restaurants and bars
While both; North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe are equally beautiful and deserving of admiration, for the purpose of this article, we will focus solely on South Lake Tahoe.
How To Reach South Lake Tahoe?
South Lake Tahoe is accessible through driveways and flights.
The closest international airport to South Lake Tahoe is the Reno Tahoe International Airport. A total of 9 airlines operate daily flights to and from South Lake Tahoe. The Reno Tahoe International Airport is only an hour’s drive from the main South Lake Tahoe hotels. You can reach the hotel by either taking the Convenient express shuttle service, taxi, limo, bus, or car.
Other nearby airports include:
- Sacramento International Airport
- San Francisco Airport
- San Jose Airport
- Oakland Airport
Tahoe South is conveniently located on the California and Nevada border. The drive to South Lake Tahoe is 3.5-hours from the Bay Area, or an hour-long drive from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
The drive up to South Tahoe from Sacramento is less than 2 hours long. There are several highways that lead you to South Lake Tahoe.
- Interstate 80 via Truckee
- US Route 50
- Nevada State Route 431 via Reno
- California State Route 89 via Emerald Bay
Most of these highways are two-lane highways. Along the way, you can enjoy the panoramic views of the lake and its surrounding pine trees. In the far distance, snow-covered mountain peaks are visible, waiting to welcome you at their ski resorts.
Top 5 Hotels when Visiting Lake Tahoe
Here are the top 5 hotels in South Lake Tahoe that promise you a safe and comfortable stay.
It is a boutique resort that offers a luxury stay to its guests. Its spacious rooms overlook the alpine forest and the great Lake Tahoe beyond.
This resort has all the basic amenities. The state of the art facility includes; gourmet dining, spa, golf course, and easy access to all the major outdoor activities. Through its concierge service, you can book your lake tours and hiking trips. All bookings must be made in advance because the resort operates at full capacity.
Located right in the center of South Lake Tahoe, this boutique hotel is a great place for families and friends. You can sit around the fire, and narrate spooky stories, or enjoy fine dining at one of its outdoor terraces. This place has it all.
Breathe in the fresh air of Heavenly Village as you discover all that this serene place has to offer. Equipped with all the basic amenities, all the rooms of this hotel offer breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe and its surrounding forests.
The Coachman redefines the traditional motel experience. Renovated to suit the taste of its modern customers, this hotel is situated just a few blocks away from Lake Tahoe and the Heavenly Mountain Resort. In the summers, guests can swim in its pool. In the winters, the hot tubs await them.
This hotel is at walking distance from all the major attractions in South Lake Tahoe. Rooms are simple yet modern and equipped with all the basic amenities like hairdryer, spacious wardrobe, water heater, water kettle, etc.
This hotel offers you luxury at the price of a motel or an inn’s room. Its 75 rooms have been specially designed to make you feel as if you are back at a summer camp. The hotel is just 5 minutes by walk from the lake and 4 minutes away by walk from the Heavenly Gondola.
The Beer Garden, which is situated inside the premises, is perfect for enjoying the nightlife of South Lake Tahoe. Local musicians entertain the guests all night long.
This boutique hotel in South Lake Tahoe is nestled between the shores of Lake Tahoe and the slopes of Heavenly Mountain. It is just half a mile away from the beach, with easy access to nearby shops and restaurants.
You have the option to choose between a private cabin and a lodge room for your stay. The hotel prides itself on cleanliness and customer service. Its spacious interiors designed from durable plywood, and beautiful outdoors are sure to give you a warm and comfortable stay.
Pristine Waterfalls to See When Visiting Lake Tahoe (South)
South Lake Tahoe’s treasures include refreshing waterfalls that cascade cold fresh water onto nearby ancient rocks and wildflower meadows. The top 5 beautiful waterfalls of South Lake Tahoe are perfect picnic spots for a day’s escape.
Cascade Creek Falls: The Cascade Creek Falls Trail is one mile long. The path is adorned with wildflowers and lush green ferns along the way. The trail begins at Bayview Campground and leads the way to the roaring Cascade Creek Falls.
Eagle Falls: With the quintessential Emerald Bay as its backdrop, these breathtaking waterfalls; lower and upper Eagle Falls, are around a 20 to 30-minute hike up the mountains. The Lower Eagle Falls has a drop of 60 feet and is about one mile south of the Upper Eagle Falls.
Glen Alpine Falls: Situated above Fallen Leaf Lake and accessed through stair-steps, the Glen Alpine Falls has icy cold water that drops 65 feet. It is easily accessed from Highway 89 on the north side and is 3 miles away from Highway 50.
Horsetail Falls: Viewed on the way from Highway 50 as we go up to South Lake Tahoe, this ferocious waterfall is just north of Twin Bridges. The water from Pyramid Creek flows down the steep glacier-covered granite rocks of Desolation Wilderness and creates the Horsetail Fall. It has a magnificent drop of 800 feet, making it the biggest waterfall at Lake Tahoe.
Fontanillis Lake Falls: This lake offers picturesque views in the spring and summer. The water falls 150 feet from Fontanillis lake at the top to the Upper Velma Lake at the bottom. It is a tough one-day long hike that requires you to carry a permit from the Eagle Falls trail camp and can be a draining experience. So always be sure to carry your lunch and water bottles.
Hiking Trails to Explore When Visting South Lake Tahoe
The hiking trails of South Lake Tahoe are perfect for exploring the region’s topography and acknowledging its natural treasures. The top 5 hikes in Tahoe South are sure to bring out the wanderlust in you.
The Skyline Trail Hike can be accessed by chairlift. You can opt for the Tamarack Express and watch the panoramic view of Tahoe lake as you move up the mountains. From the top of the Skyline Trail, you can see the Carson Valley below. Going up and coming back down, you will cover a distance of almost 2 miles.
The Fallen Leaf Lake
This hike is ideal for families with children. Your kids will surely enjoy hiking up from the campground at Taylor Creek, up to Mt. Tallac, and all the way to Desolation Wilderness. Along the way, they can enjoy plucking wildflowers and aspens. The entire journey is about 3 miles long.
The Cascade Falls
This hike is near the Emerald Bay and can be enjoyed best during the spring season. It is a short hike that goes around the mountains and overlooks Cascade lake, Tahoe Lake, and Desolation Wilderness at the bottom. If you are looking for a more challenging trail, then you can turn around and walk towards the Bayview trailhead, and from there, hike all the way up to the Maggie’s Saddle and the Desolation Wilderness. It’s a total distance of about 2 miles, both ways.
The Van Sickle
This trail hike goes through the Van Sickle Bi-State Park that is located at the back side of Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe. The trail links Stateline to the Tahoe Rim Trail. Within the first one mile of this trail, you can observe the calm natural beauty of Lake Tahoe. Hike further up, and you will come across the waterfall. You can enjoy the melodious rhythm of the waterfall and nearby stream from the newly constructed bridge. If you are not too tired, you can continue up the path and go all the way to Tahoe Rim Trail.
The Rubicon Trail Hike is best known for its scenic wonders. Going parallel to the shores of Emerald Bay and the west shore of Lake Tahoe, this trail boasts terrific panoramas. Along the way, you will pass by wildflowers, clear waterfalls, cliffs, and an old desolate lighthouse. You can drive up until D.L. Bliss State Park or the Emerald Bay and then continue your journey up north. The entire length of this trail is around 6.6 miles, one way.
The Spiritual Hike: Cave Rock
Revered by the ancients, Cave Rock is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Tahoe and is over 3 million years old. This giant rock formation is visible from all sides of the lake. Its unique curves look like a woman’s face, and for this very reason, the Washoe Indians referred it to as “The Lady of the Lake.” This rock carries spiritual significance for the Washoe people, and they often used to hold religious ceremonies inside the cave.
The hike is only 15 minutes up the rock and is accessible through Highway 50, which goes from South Lake Tahoe to Nevada. Even though it is a steep climb up to the cave, the spectacular views from the top are worth all the struggle. You can read a review here.
An Ideal Escape for Couples, Family, and Friends Visiting Lake Tahoe
Whether you are planning a destination wedding with the love of your life or are planning a romantic getaway, South Lake Tahoe has it all.
The calmness of this earthly heaven is sure to bring the passion up a notch. From a bird’s eye view, you can stare at the glimmering beauty beneath you as you take a ride on the hot air balloon with your dearly beloved by your side. The scent of the alpine forest, the rising sun from the east, and the clear blue sky will rekindle the romance that you thought was lost. The Lake Tahoe Balloon flight for couples includes refreshments and can be arranged even during the winters.
Explore the deep beauty of Lake Tahoe onboard a romantic cruise. The luxurious wine cruise, Safari Rose, offers couples a chance to taste the best wine made by California’s top winemakers, along with delicious appetizers. You can sneak in romantic kisses and lots of cuddles as you and your partner look at the never-ending expanse of clear blue water from the deck of the cruise.
If rejuvenation is your top priority, then enjoy a spa day with your partner at one of South Lake Tahoe’s full-service resorts. Relax at the sound of meditative music, the scent of essential oils, and the gentle touch of masseurs as you both enjoy a full body massage, facials, or sauna at the spa.
At night, enjoy a romantic candlelight dinner at one of Tahoe’s many sunset and lake view restaurants. The gourmet-style food and peaceful ambiance will make you fall in love all over again.
Families can enjoy an action-packed holiday while visiting South Lake Tahoe’s several recreational centers. All members of the family can enjoy the variety of winter sport options that the snow-covered mountains of Lake Tahoe have on offer.
Whether you want to make snowmen, snow angels, have snowball fights, or get involved in something more adventurous like riding on a snowmobile, skiing down the Sierra Mountain Resort, or snow tube down the snowy slopes, the ski resorts of Lake Tahoe have it all.
You can sit on the sandy lakeshores and have a great family picnic as you see the dawn turn to dusk.
There are plenty of fun-filled activities for families inside the hotels and resorts. Gaming arcades, wall climbing arenas, ice skating rinks, and miniature golf courses are sure to keep everyone happy.
If you have been waiting for a vacation with your friends or colleagues, then South Lake Tahoe’s panoramic restaurants with savory foods, delicious cocktails, live concerts, and lively casinos are ideal in that aspect.
You can take a dip in one of the hot springs at the 1862 David Walley’s Hot Springs with your buddies and bet the winter chills or enjoy a game of Roulette with your best mates. And if physical activity is your cup of tea, then rent a mountain bike and ride around the areas with your friends as you take in the serenity of Lake Tahoe.
Over a glass of champagne at one of our luxurious cocktail bars or atop the Pyramid Peak as you gaze at the rising sun, visiting Lake Tahoe offers perfect opportunities for making life-long pacts with your life-long friends.
Enjoy Visiting Lake Tahoe
We hope you will benefit from our Ultimate Guide for Visiting Lake Tahoe. Take your family and friends to Lake Tahoe during the holidays and for summer vacations. We guarantee you that it will become the best trip of your life.